Scrapbookpages Blog

October 10, 2012

What it’s like to visit Auschwitz today…some tourists are sent to the left

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , — furtherglory @ 2:06 pm

It’s been 7 years since my last visit to Auschwitz. How time flies!  There have been some changes since I last visited.  When I was there 7 years ago, it was not forbidden to take photos, AFAIK.  I walked around the Auschwitz main camp and the Auschwitz II camp (Birkenau) for several days, carrying two cameras, and no one said a word to me about not taking photos.  That has changed, according to a story told by recent visitors, which you can read here.

This quote is from the website cited above:

It was, appropriately, a gloomy and cold morning when we arrived at the camp and hundreds of people from around the world were gathering outside the entrance.

On leaving our minibus, members of our tour party were given yellow labels to identify that we were with an English-speaking group. Other visitors with the same tour company, who were presumably non-English-speaking, were sporting blue labels.

I found it bitterly ironic that on arrival at the camp entrance those visitors with blue labels were told to go to the left and those with yellow labels to the right.

More than 50 years earlier, arrivals at Auschwitz were similarly divided: healthy prisoners to the left; women, children and the sick to the right – the latter being immediately destined for the gas chambers and the crematoriums, usually the same day.

What a revolting development this is!  Non-English speaking visitors are now sent to the left and English speakers to the right. If I remember correctly, after entering the main camp through the Arbeit Macht Frei gate, the path to the left leads to the gas chamber.  How insensitive to make visitors go to the left to the gas chamber!

Auschwitz survivors leave through Arbeit Macht Frei gate, January 2009
Photo Credit: REUTERS

After entering through the Arbeit Macht Frei gate, shown in the photo above, the first building on the left is Block 24, which was the brothel when the camp was in operation years ago. To get to the gas chamber in the main camp,  turn to the left just after entering through the Arbeit Macht Frei gate. Go to the end of the street and then turn right. You will soon see an opening in the fence (shown in the photo below) that leads to the gas chamber building, which is located outside the camp.

Path that leads to the gas chamber which is outside the camp

If you turn to the right at the Arbeit Macht Frei gate, you will pass the camp kitchen. The photo below shows a view of the camp kitchen. The thing on the left of the birch tree, in the center of the photo, is a one-man air raid shelter. The Allies targeted Auschwitz for bombing because of the important munitions factories there, which used prison labor.  Those who were selected to go to the right were the lucky ones who were allowed to live.

Camp kitchen is to the right of the Arbeit Macht Frei gate

The photo below shows the entrance to the main Auschwitz camp, just before you get to the Arbeit Macht Frei gate. In this photo, the road going straight ahead is the road to the gas chamber.  The tour groups should be divided at this point, so that no one has to be waved to the left and then find out that they have been taken to the gas chamber.  In the photo below, the road to the right goes through the Arbeit Macht Frei gate.

My 1998 photo shows the entrance street into the main camp

1998 photo of the exit from the camp. The Arbeit sign is out of sight on the left side of the photo

This quote is from the article which you can read in full here:

Although Auschwitz’s main buildings are not particularly gruesome, the same cannot not be said for nearby Auschwitz II-Birkenau, which is instantly recognisable (sic) for what it was: a death camp.

By the time we arrived at the purpose-built extermination centre that is Birkenau there was a bitterly cold wind blowing and rain was lashing the bleak site. Most of the wooden barracks that once housed the many thousands of prisoners were demolished by the SS in a bid to erase all traces of their crimes. Likewise the gas chambers capable of killing 2000 people a day were blown up, but the ruins still remain and enough of the camp survives to give visitors an all-too-recognisable (sic) insight into the evil that was perpetrated here.

At my first sight of the Birkenau camp in 1998, from the top of the gate house tower, I instantly recognized it as NOT a “death camp.”  The camp is 425 acres in size.  Why would a “death camp” be that big?  Why were hundreds of barrack buildings necessary if people were brought to the Birkenau camp and killed on the day that they arrived?